We all make dozens, if not hundreds, of micro-decisions every day. When should I get up? How much should I exercise? What should I eat? When should I go to bed? Should I say no? Or maybe yes? All of this decision-making can be exhausting. And sometimes we don’t make the best decisions for ourselves. We may push ourselves too hard and try to do too much.

I recently read a couple of articles by two of my favorite writers, Elizabeth Gilbert and Martha Beck, in O, The Oprah Magazine. Both of their articles made me think about how we treat ourselves. Okay, about how I treat myself. And I got a new idea. What if I made decisions for myself as if I was doing so for a friend?

Duh! I know! We’re always supposed to treat ourselves with kindness and compassion, be our own best friend, etc. But sometimes that’s easier said than done, especially if you’re prone to overworking, like a certain friend I know.

I think some of the tiniest decisions I make might be very different if I was advising a friend. So, I decided to try the “what would I tell a friend to do” experiment.

Giving a Friend Advice

The next morning, I woke up and eventually made it into the kitchen for breakfast. I started to think about what to eat. Out of habit, I began reviewing the healthiest options available. And then I remembered my experiment: what would I advise a friend to eat for breakfast?

I stopped to think about how hungry my friend was and what she had planned for that morning. I asked her what she felt like having. She thought an English muffin with peanut butter and jelly, along with a plain Greek yogurt sounded good. So that’s what I had. It was delicious and I felt satisfied afterwards.

As the day progressed, I circled back and asked my friend what she wanted. What project did she want to work on first? How much time did she want to spend on different tasks? When did she want to take a lunch break? And then what did she feel like having for lunch? Once I looked at things from the perspective of advising a friend, the decision-making was easy.

Shopping with my Friend

Several days ago while shopping (in a store, not online), I saw a pair of beautiful shoes that caught my attention. I’ve been thinking about them ever since. There’s just one problem: they are dreadfully expensive, about triple what I think is acceptable. But gosh, I really want them. What would I tell a friend to do? I asked her how often she’d wear them (not often). I also asked her how she’d feel spending too much on a pair of shoes (probably not good). I advised my friend to wait and see. They will probably be there in the future, if I still “need” them down the road.

I carried on with my experiment. Later that day, she, I mean I, was talking to my husband about that evening’s plans. We were weighing whether to go out to eat or stay home for the night. I quickly reviewed what my friend would want. She’d like to stay home and have a quiet night. That’s what we did.

In the evening, we sometimes have popcorn while watching TV. I thought about how my friend felt and realized that she had had enough food and didn’t have room for more. I told my friend she could have it another time.

Elizabeth Gilbert talked in a Good Life Project podcast about taking good care of her animal body. When her body feels good, the rest of her functions well. This includes getting enough sleep and not over-scheduling herself.

I happen to have a Master’s degree in over-scheduling myself. I would never ask a friend to take on so many back-to-back commitments that may look good on the calendar, but are far too much in reality. However, I am becoming less of an over-scheduler, which my friend and I appreciate.

Try This at Home

In the tiniest of ways, you might want to try this experiment on yourself. Deciding what outfit to wear? See what would be best for your friend. Want to have dessert after dinner? Ask your friend if dessert would be a good idea. It might or it might not be.

Because you know your friend so well, it’s easy to make decisions for her. You have far more information about her than you will ever have about anyone else. By re-framing decisions in this way, I find it easier to act in my own best interest.

There’s probably a psychological term for this approach to decision-making. But I don’t need to get all technical about it. I just like my simple approach: what would I tell my friend to do? And then I do it.